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Auto workers' strike could expand to Chicago's Ford factory

Auto workers strike hits day 5
Auto workers strike hits day 5 02:23

With United Auto Workers in their fifth day of a strike against the Big Three car makers, both sides were back at the bargaining table on Tuesday, although they remain far apart when it comes to getting a new deal.

United Auto Workers officials have threatened that their strike could expand by the end of the week.

So far the strike is limited to about 13,000 workers at three factories — one each at GM, Ford Motor and Stellantis. Rather than launching an all-out strike of its 146,000 members, the union opted to target three factories; a plan that could make the union's $825 million strike fund last longer. Workers walked out of a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford plant near Detroit, and a Stellantis factory in Toledo, Ohio, that produces Jeeps.

However, In a video statement late Monday, UAW President Shawn Fain said more factories could be targeted if "serious progress" toward an agreement isn't reached by Friday at noon. A key feature of the UAW strategy is the threat of escalating the strike if the union is unhappy with the pace of bargaining.

Friday, September 22nd. Noon. The working class won't wait. #StandUpUAW

Posted by UAW International Union on Monday, September 18, 2023

If the union follows the same playbook as they used to pick their first three strike targets, an expanded strike could mean workers walking off the job at Ford's factory in Chicago, where they make the Explorer SUV. They could also target Michigan plants that make Ford pickup trucks.

Meantime, CBS 2 News has learned Stellantis had offered to address the Belvidere facility outside Chicago, which has been idled since February. The company moved to close the plant in February as it was preparing for the costly transition from internal combustion to electric vehicles, which are 40% more expensive to make.

Stellantis has said it can't pass the increased costs to consumers, because many wouldn't be able to afford new cars. It also can't sell EVs at a loss, so it's left with absorbing the added costs.

In an offer on Thursday, Stellantis proposed using the Belvidere plant as a superhub for parts. They would then consolidate other parts plants elsewhere, but it's unclear if that would also bring back assembly line production jobs to the Belvidere plant, or how many jobs would be transferred rather than created by the move.

The Belvidere plant has been a focus of negotiations with Stellantis, and will continue to be as UAW pushes to reopen the plant and restore as many jobs as possible.

Meantime, GM warned that 2,000 UAW-represented workers at an assembly plant in Kansas City are "expected to be idled as soon as early this week" because of a shortage of supplies from a GM plant near St. Louis, where workers walked off the job Friday.

Ford on Friday moved to temporarily lay off 600 non-striking workers at its assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, only hours after other employees at the facility had walked off the job.

"This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant's final assembly and paint departments, because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection," the company said in a statement Friday. "E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike."

The UAW's Fain on Sunday shot down an offer by Stellantis — which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM, along with major foreign brands including Citroën, Peugeot and Maserati — to hike its worker' wages by 21% over four years. 

Ford and GM have also each offered a roughly 20% pay bump. The union is asking for a 36% hike over a four-year contract. 

The union also wants the Big Three automakers to eliminate their two-tier wage model, which results in many workers earning less than the average wage of $32 an hour; offer defined benefit pensions to all employees; limit the the use of temporary workers; offer a four-day workweek; and provide more job protections, including the right to strike over plant closings

"Our demands are just," Fain said on "Face the Nation." "We're asking for our fair share in this economy and the fruits of our labor." 

CBS News Correspondent Kris Van Cleave, who is watching the negotiations from Detroit, reports while conversations between the two sides continue, so far it doesn't seem like negotiations have resulted in a cohesive offer.

Instead, the strategy might be trying to find places where the two sides agree, and using that as a foundation to try to build to some of the harder issues, like the huge gulf in pay.

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